Pacific Rim: A Stupidly Awesome Movie
Giant robots fighting giant monsters. What more can a kid ask for? As a kid trapped in a body of an adult, I absolutely loved Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim the second I saw its trailer. I instantly felt nostalgia because the concept reminded me of Megazord battles from Power Rangers—I grew up watching humanoid robots beat up monsters. When I finally got the chance to watch Pacific Rim, I loved the movie even more. The plot is incredibly ridiculous, but the rules of logic can be ignored for the sake of awesomeness. Again, it’s giant robots fighting giant monsters.
The premise of the movie is humans controlling robots to fight monsters. That itself sounds ridiculous enough. In order to understand why robots are necessary for the survival of mankind, Pacific Rim begins with a narrative prologue introducing giant creatures called Kaiju. The Kaiju are from a different world, and they enter our world through a dimensional portal, the Breach, on the seafloor. The Kaiju would raise out of the ocean, rain destruction on major cities, and kill a bunch of people. Of course, the world decides to build giant robots, called Jaegers, to hunt and physically fight the Kaiju. In German, jaeger means hunter.
Now this is the part where you might start scratching your head. If the brilliant scientists and engineers can build giant robots with plasma cannons, why can’t they build plasma turrets around the portal to shoot down the Kaiju as they cross over? The Jaegers could transport the materials underwater. Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of the Kaiju before they reach shore? Oh wait. The fight scenes wouldn’t be as epic.
The protagonist Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a Jaeger pilot, is the stereotypical hero who walks away from his heroic duties because of some traumatic event. In this movie, the traumatic event is the death of his older brother and copilot, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), during a fight with a Kaiju. Losing his brother is traumatic enough, but Raleigh actually experiences the fear his brother felt before dying through the neurological mental bridge between them. This is because controlling a Jaeger requires two pilots, and the pilots have to be neurologically synced with each other. The trauma of Yancy's death and literally experiencing death causes Raleigh to quit being a Jaeger pilot.
Of course, the reluctant hero needs some convincing to return to his heroic duties. In comes the second protagonist, an eager young woman named Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who lost her family during a Kaiju attack in Tokyo. Mako desires to become a Jaeger pilot, but is held back by her adoptive father figure, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Her desire to prove herself as a capable Jaeger pilot and the obstacles she has to overcome drive a significant portion of the storyline. The partnership between Raleigh and Mako begins with the two learning to trust each other and sync their minds in order to pilot Gipsy Danger, the Jaeger Raleigh and Yancy piloted together.
The relationship between the two protagonists isn't the only dyadic relationship that drives the plot. Continuing the movie’s theme of partnership are two scientists, the Kaiju groupie Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and the analytical Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). The former approaches Kaiju biology from an empirical perspective, while the latter uses a mathematical approach to predict the occurrences of Kaiju attacks.
While Newton primarily observes and dissects Kaiju specimen parts, Gottlieb prefers to confine himself to the logical laws of math. The conflicting, exaggerated and eccentric (perhaps overacted) personalities of the two characters create a more interesting relationship than the relationship between Raleigh and Mako. The scientists' relationship is more fun to watch since the scientists are always arguing with each other. Similar to Mako's desire to prove herself, Newton desires to prove that his research is superior to Gottlieb's.
Guillermo del Toro is an artist, and Pacific Rim's visual effects are stunning. Compared to Guillermo del Toro's other films, I would argue that Pacific Rim has the best visuals so far. Despite most of the action scenes taking place in the dark, you can still appreciate the contrast between dark environment with sharp colors: the neon bluish greens from the Kaiju, the Jaegers' colorful metal plates, and the city lights of Hong Kong. Nearly any screenshot of the movie could be used as a poster or desktop wallpaper.
Both the Kaiju and Jaegers in the film appear painstakingly designed. For example, the Kaiju are designed to resemble mutated sea monsters. Their blood is shown blue to differentiate the Kaiju from terrestrial creatures that typically bleed red. Even the silhouettes and design of the Jaegers each show off distinct personalities of the Jaegers and their pilots.
The Four Remaining Jaegers
- Cherno Alpha is the oldest functioning Jaeger. She is piloted by two Russians. Her head resembles a nuclear reactor, and her bulky fists are useful for smashing Kaiju heads.
- Crimson Typhoon is China’s Jaeger. She’s piloted by three pilots, instead of the usual two. The extra pilot controls the extra pair of arms.
- Eureka Striker is the Australian Jaeger piloted by a father-son team. She's the newest and fastest Jaeger.
- Gipsy Danger is the American Jaeger piloted by Raleigh and Mako. Her silhouette is designed to resemble the anatomy of a cowboy. This is because the design team wanted her to "feel like a classic, old gunslinger" (Guillermo del Toro).
Accompanying the visuals is musically epic, albeit a bit cheesy, soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi. As Gipsy Danger swaggers through the streets of Hong Kong, the electric guitar starts playing her theme. That’s when you know that Gipsy Danger is going to kick some Kaiju butt.
The action sequences and robots were what initially drove me to see the film. I honestly didn’t have high expectations for the story; I was just there to watch the Jaegers punch sea monsters. While I found myself enjoying both the fight scenes and ridiculous story, what I appreciated the most was Mako Mori’s character. It was refreshing to see a female in a science-fiction action flick not overly sexualized or used as a human prop to support the male character. I was also relieved to see that Mako was never intended to be Raleigh's love interest (a trope commonly seen in many science-fiction action movies). She is her own independent character with her own desires and motivation. While Mako doesn't pass the Bechdel Test in this movie (she didn't talk to any other female character), many fans have agreed that Mako is a strong female character and have created the Mako Mori Test in response.
Mako Mori Test
There are at least two female chracters who talk about something other than a man.
There is at least one female character who has her own narrative arc, which doesn't support the male character's story.
Pacific Rim is a movie clearly made for those who grew up watching shows like Transformers, Power Rangers, Godzilla, or Neon Genesis Evangelion. Let's be honest. Pacific Rim is not supposed to demonstrate any sense of realism. The method of fighting the Kaiju is rather stupid, and no country would spend billions of dollars to build Jaegers when there are more efficient ways fight the Kaiju. (Plasma cannon auto turrets?) Pacific Rim is a movie made for your inner child, not for the mass audience. You probably wouldn't want to watch Pacific Rim with your mother on Mother's Day. In the end, Pacific Rim does what it was meant to do: tell a story about giant robots fighting giant monsters.